National University of Science and Technology’s (NUST) article in PLATFORM2013 discusses how gender inequalities continue to influence the dependence of women on men, and how textile technologies have been used to empower women to minimize this dependence through training and research.

Researcher: Prof. Londiwe C Nkiwane, Associate Professor in Textile Technology | NUST | Bulawayo | Zimbabwe.

The National University of Science and Technology (NUST) is committed to community engagement and having its research focused on the problems affecting communities (particularly rural) and addressing the Millennium Development Goals,” said Vice­Chancellor Prof. L.R. Ndlovu while discussing Research Uptake at National University of Science and Technology.

Thus, the NUST Mission Statement, Research Strategy and Research Policy have elements which focus on these issues. The Research Policy (to be implemented shortly) has Research Uptake through dissemination as a significant component. The research project being high­lighted here (for DRUSSA) has addressed issues of poverty alleviation in rural communities and empowerment of women. The current beneficiaries of the outputs have been policy­makers, rural communities and academic audiences. The project has been prioritised (along with three others) for wider dissemination through the NUST web page and other routes such as social and print media.”

Which communities and why?

The project focused on the use of natural resources and plant products to contribute to textile technologies employed by rural women in the Lupane District of Zimbabwe. The Lupane District has not had much development since post­ independence in 1980. Most men leave villages to fend for their families in towns or neighbouring countries. They rarely visit home because their salaries are too low to allow for frequent travel. Women became engaged in basketry making to try and contribute to household incomes. The aim of the project was to help empower the women through the application of scientific techniques that enhance their own indigenous knowledge systems. Women were trained in various textile­related technologies such as tie­dye, and weaving with different types of fibres such as sisal fibres (ilala) and cotton yarn. Women who had been trained then went on to train other women in their villages and this has helped in disseminating knowledge faster and to a wider audience. The project has therefore contributed to poverty alleviation and gender parity in Lupane.

Which policy­makers need to be influenced?

The ministries of Small and Medium Enterprises, Youth Development, Gender and Employment Creation and Science and Technology Development all have a direct interest in the project. In particular the former two ministries needed to be engaged so as to disseminate the findings of the project.

At the start of the project the following were consulted:

a.)  Local leadership (traditional and political) at village level, who granted us permission to work in their communities.

b.)  Lupane Women’s Centre, that started the formation of village clusters for training of women; and

c.)  Respected elders with indigenous wisdom in the community.

In addition, women from Lupane were asked to attend meetings to discuss their occupations and livelihoods. They were already making items such as baskets, however the range and diversity of colours were very limited as most common natural plant dyes, such as pink­ivory and aloe, tend to produce shades of brown. The Department of Textile Technology at NUST identified ways in which certain interventions would help enhance the range of colours used in their products, as well as expand the range of items produced. Women were then able to make products decorated with more colours, and with improved workmanship. These products sold at higher prices, enabling the women to pay school fees for their children. Various indigenous plant species, which could provide even greater diversity of colours for used in product manufacture, continue to be identified. The scientific basis of textile production from natural fibres and use of dyes was taken up and practically implemented by the beneficiaries.

Research underway

Fibres and dyes continue to be brought to the laboratory so that their chemical and physical properties can be analysed to determine their expansion/limitation in their applications to different products. Research into the softening of Ilala and sisal fibres continues. Bark, roots and leaves of trees are being investigated, and more research is underway to identify plants that can give a blue hue. Breakthroughs in these areas will allow the communities to further expand their product ranges.

When did the research start?

The Lupane project was started with a grant from DFID in 2006. The project came to an end in 2009, however, the activities continued after the termination of funding as the programme of activities is sustainable both now and in the future.

The results have been shared with the scientific community through conferences and journal articles. Workshops have been held with local women where results have been shared. Information on outputs and outcomes has been shared with relevant ministries. Similar research on dyes has been conducted in other districts such as Bulilima, Zimbabwe. In Gwanda women picked wild silk cocoons, which were sold semi­processed before being sold for fibre extraction. The National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa provided funds to develop the fibres into garments. Research in Ilala dyeing is highlighted in the‘‘Good Practices Guide: Africa Unit UK/Africa Partnership in HE/FE” for June 2010. This was a direct contribution from the Principal Investigator.

The significance of the research outputs has been recognised by the Research Council of Zimbabwe. An award in the “Social Science and Humanities” category was made to the lead researcher Prof. Londiwe Nkiwane. As research dissemination activities begin to gain momentum at NUST under the DRUSSA programme, there are plans to share the outputs with a wider audience. Policy briefs are also in preparation for interested ministries. Although results have been shared with a limited audience so far, the lead researcher will engage relevant decision­makers in the Ministries of Small and Medium Enterprises, Youth Development, Gender and Employment Creation, and Science and Technology Development in future to ensure wider dissemination within Zimbabwe and possible implementation in other districts.

Background story

The research is in line with the Mission Statement of the University, which is ‘to contribute positively towards the advancement of humanity through the provision of knowledge­based solutions to scientific, technological and economic problem’. This research was funded by DFID through DelPHE, in partnership with Moi University, and two other institutions.

Policy Influencers targeted

The Ministry of Youth Development, Gender and Employment Creation stresses that issues of equality and equity are a matter of social justice and good economic. They also say that there is need for women themselves to lead their own empowerment in education, employment, leadership positions, policy making and implementation at all societal levels. This research meets the requirements of this Ministry very well, as well as of local authorities (especially rural) who seek to empower women so that they can not only contribute in providing for families, but also be involved in decision making and policy implementation in their localities. There is also a need for this work to reach the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises that like the previous Ministry, should aim at creating employment. Together the

two can work together so that funds to start businesses can be made available to those that want to start businesses, and hence contribute to economic growth. It would also contribute to economic empowerment of women in rural settings.


This research project was recognised bythe Research Council of Zimbabwe (RCZ) and an award was won for Best Research in Social Sciences and Humanities in February 2013. The researcher has since developed good relationships with the RCZ and now sits in the NRDZ Editorial Committee. RCZ falls under the Ministry of Science and Technology and Prof. Londiwe C Nkiwane was invited to contribute to the policy document of the Ministry. Liaison continues with the relevant ministries to share some of the outputs and outcomes.

Join the Research Uptake Conversation

If this piece of evidence­based development research from Sub Saharan Africa  is of use to you, please continue the Research Uptake Conversation by contacting the National University of Science and Technology for more details.


DRUSSA Research Uptake Champion at NUST Prof. Yogeshkumar Naik

Director, Research and Innovation Office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Prof. Londiwe C Nkiwane

Associate Professor in Textile Technology lThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. lThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This article is from PLATFORM2013– a print and digital publication from the DRUSSA Universities in Sub­Saharan Africa [SSA] – aimed at accessibly communicating evidence­based development research with the goal of deepening its reach and impact in the region.

Research uptake is defined as the ‘process of becoming aware of and accessing research outputs, and the institutions, policies, systems and mechanisms supporting this process’.  Research uptake involves the following categories:

  • Dissemination of research findings (message);
  • Capacity development;
  • Influence (social influence);
  • Collaboration between researchers and users (Communication);
  • Incentives and reinforcement;
  • an Enabling environment and
  • Research on Uptake and Use (Development Research Uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa (DRUSSA), 2010).

In this article, we focus on Research Communication (dissemination of research findings).

Research Communication also is known as Science Communication (SciCom) is defined in a report by the Office of Science and Technology and the Welcome Trust (2000) as a term that encompasses communication between:

a)      groups within the scientific community, including those in academia and industry

b)      the scientific community and the media

c)      the scientific community and the public

d)      the scientific community and government, or others in positions of power and/or authority

e)      the scientific community and government, or others who influence policy

f)       industry and the public;

g)      the government and the public

h)      the media (including museums and science centres) and the public


Why should academics communicate their research/ scientific works?

Public communication about science is increasingly seen as an important element within the creation of a knowledge society (Horst, 2013). Science is inherently social and informal scholarly scientific communication forms the backbone that connects scientists and enables scientific progress (Pikas, 2006). Research should not be seen as carrying financial benefits for the researcher but should be seen from a viewpoint of adding value to innovation and economic development.  Universities are becoming more engaged in research for policy and practice. 

NUST has been working on research uptake and communication through the Development Research Uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa (DRUSSA) programme.  Research communication and dissemination had not been so much of a priority before 2012, but there is now a great emphasis on carrying the outcomes and findings of research to industry, policy makers and the wider community in which most research activities take place. The NUST Research Policy which was approved in 2014 includes research uptake and dissemination which will be rolled out adopted in 2016.  There are plans to identify ongoing projects in all faculties and to work with researchers to communicate their research outputs and engage various stakeholders including policymakers and the general public and increase research visibility and uptake from NUST academics. 

NUST academics have also been called upon, by the Vice-Chancellors office to engage with The Conversation and send articles to this platform. The Conversationis a newsroom, based in Johannesburg that is funded by local and international donors to make the expertise of academics available to the general public by publishing articles written by them and edited by journalists.

Academics who have written for The Conversation elsewhere had this to say:

“Often, we as scientists are sceptical of journalists, as we fear that our work may be wholly misinterpreted and the wrong message purveyed: not in this case – The Conversation Africa’s editor took my work and expertly crafted it into an article. I guess that’s why we are scientists and journos are journos! Such an easy process from suggestion of the article to completion – only a matter of days with excellent editing. Also the platform for submitting, editing and accepting the final draft before publication is easy to use and gives the author a lot of control over the final product. Look forward to writing my next article!” Dr Janet Viljoen, Chair, Departmental Ethical Standards Committee, Department of Human Kinetics and Ergonomics, Rhodes University

Is it our duty as academics to communicate our research to non-academic audiences?

The question that comes to the minds of most academics is: as long as we are effective at actually conducting our research, should we care whether we can explain that work to the public?

The short answer is yes. Nearly every aspect of our lives; what we eat and wear, how we work, face illness and share information; rests on scientific research. To make well-founded decisions about our future, both as societies and as individuals, we need a basic understanding of the way science works. We need politicians, policymakers and media figures to understand that, too (The Conversation, 2015).

Scientific information is a social need that cannot be discarded in any full democracy. Society needs scientific information (Greco, 2002). Effective communication is an essential part of science for at least two reasons. First, if nobody hears about your work, you might as well have never done it. Second, if you do not communicate your work effectively, there are many people around who will communicate it for you, and when they do, it will probably be skewed in order to support whatever agenda they have (Grant et al., 2015:2). The fundamental goal of science is to develop a shared, public understanding of our observations (Grant et al., 2015:2).

And researchers owe it to us. Almost every scientist receives some support from the public, including subsidies for graduate education or grants. So scientists have a responsibility to share their work with the public that funds them. That may mean opening themselves to criticism, as well as appreciation. But if the public doesn’t understand science, they won’t support government funding for research (The Conversation, 2015).

Clear communication benefits the scientists too

As science gets more specialised, colleagues in neighbouring fields become a lot like the public. They speak different languages, with different knowledge bases. Words like “transformation,” “activation” and even “theory” mean different things in different fields (and something else again in everyday English). Does AI mean artificial intelligence or artificial insemination? (The Conversation, 2015).

Scientists often tell us that at meetings in their own field, they don’t understand 60%-80% of the lectures they hear. (“I want those hours of my life back.”) (The Conversation, 2015). Yet, the world’s big challenges; from climate change to brain disease; increasingly require chemists, biologists, physicists, computer scientists, material scientists, earth scientists and others to collaborate.

And when scientists distill their message for lay audiences, they can actually gain insight that improves their science. Neurobiologist Nicholas Spitzer, co-director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at University of California in  San Diego, put it this way:


… when I talk publicly, I appreciate the need to step back and present the big picture, and in so doing put details into a larger context that is much more accessible – and much more memorable – for an audience. This has stimulated me to think about larger questions over the years and has influenced the directions of my research (The Conversation, 2015).